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Paolo E. Coletta

Until a global organization competent to extend recognitions binding upon the world can be created, each state handles the question of recognition on the basis of national policy rather than international law. The principle of recognition can be traced back to the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius, who asserted that the obligation of a state remains unmodified despite changes made by constitutional, revolutionary, and other means. Given the large number of states and the peaceful or forcible changes often made in them (regular elections or successor states in the first instance; accretion, prescription, conquest, occupation, and cession in the second), and the application of recognition to belligerency as well as to statehood, the question of recognition remains a constant in the conduct of international relations.


All "new" states seek recognition from other states because recognition admits that a state has an international personality. All states have the legal duty to decide whether a "new" state meets certain conditions and therefore warrants being recognized. Does it have complete independence from parent and other states, exercise authority over a defined geographic area, enjoy the obedience of the great majority of its population, reveal willingness and ability to assume international obligations and duties?

Express recognition may be extended unilaterally in an explicit executive statement by one state or collectively following the agreement of several states. Recognition is implied if a state undertakes some sort of intercourse with another, as in concluding treaties with it or sending diplomatic representatives to it, without, however, having recognized it, thereby revealing at least intent to recognize it explicitly at a later time. A state's imposition of demands upon a community seeking recognition is a conditional type of recognition. Contingent recognition is generally reserved for acknowledgment by a parent state that a revolution against it has succeededindeed, it endorses the rupture. Recognition is granted by some states if a state is admitted to an international conference (for example, China, Persia, and Siam at the Hague Conference of 1907), or to an international organization (Ethiopia admitted to membership of the League of Nations in 1923, Syria and Lebanon admitted to the United Nations in 1945), or if a mother country grants independence to a former colony, mandate, or trusteeship.

Despite much argument over precise meanings, de facto recognition seems to mean a "qualified" or "provisional" recognition that subsequently may be withdrawn, whereas de jure recognition is final and irrevocable, indicates the legitimacy of title, and signifies closer political ties than de facto recognition. The phrase "de facto" has caused confusion because it has been applied indiscriminately in constitutional and international law and also with respect to recognition. De jure or de facto describes the character of the act of recognition, whereas recognition of a de facto or de jure government or state characterizes the status of the entity recognized. The courts or other agencies of the recognizing power, however, treat the validity of the acts of recognized powers in identical fashion, regardless of how they were recognized.

The determination of the government to be recognized, even of the "policy" governing such determination, is an executive function in the United States. In 1897, when congressional resolutions sought recognition of Cuban independence and United States mediation between Cuba and Spain, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee objected, saying, "Resolutions of their [nation's] legislative departments upon diplomatic matters have no status in international law." President Grover Cleveland agreedindeed, he said privately that he would not mobilize the army even if Congress declared war.

Controversies involving certain aspects of foreign affairs occasionally provoke conflict between the president and the courts, the latter of which may or may not agree to recognize a new state in legal proceedings and to enforce that state's laws in American territory. It is nevertheless possible to have officieuses ("officious") intercourse, as the French put it, with states that are denied recognitionfor instance, by carrying on private undertakings in such fields as the recovery of property and exchange of persons.

A distinction is often made between "constitutive" (or "creative" or "positivist") and "declaratory" (or "de facto") recognition. According to the constitutive theory, prior to recognition a community possesses neither the rights nor the obligations associated with statehood. Moreover, recognition is a political rather than a legal action. The declaratory theory, denying the legal necessity for a community to be recognized as a state, holds that a community seeking recognition possesses many of the characteristics inherent in statehood but has no right to claim recognition as such. The constitutive doctrine remains the preferred one.

The precise timing of the acceptance of a new state into the community of nations thus may vary. The British colonists in America, for example, proclaimed their independence on 4 July 1776. Although Britain never formally recognized their belligerency, they were recognized as independent by France on 6 February 1778, when Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce. Britain recognized the United States as independent in the Peace of Paris of 3 September 1783. Not until the Nootka Sound controversy of 17891790 did it realize that the United States existed as a viable community. In consequence, in 1791 Britain sent a minister plenipotentiary and then began diplomatic relations with its former colony. A commercial treaty was not written, however, until Jay's Treaty of 1794. In accordance with the declaratory theory, the United States became a state when it declared its independence, 4 July 1776; in accordance with the preferred constitutive view, toward which Britain leans, the date is 6 February 1778, when it was recognized by France. In more recent years the question of timing arose in October 2000, after North Korean officials contacted British and German officials and requested recognitionalready granted by Canada, Italy, and Australia. While on his way to a summit meeting in Seoul, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked by a reporter when he would grant recognition. Blair replied, "Diplomatic moves of that kind move at a leisurely pace. But we intend to give a positive response to the letter we received last month." German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder revealed a similar attitude.


The distinction between a state and its government is made primarily for the purpose of recognition, since a state as a corporate person may continue after change has occurred in its government. Indeed, a state remains a state until it has been abolished. That recognition extends to a government rather than to a person was decided upon early in the American government and set a pattern followed by most states. When Louis XVI of France was deposed and beheaded in 1793, Alexander Hamilton argued that the supplanting of an admittedly tyrannous government by an equally tyrannous mob should go unrecognized and that the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France should be considered suspended until a French government was formed. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson instead held that the French people had the inherent right to form their own government, and that the treaty should remain in full force regardless of change in the French government, because treaties, not governments, bind nations. President George Washington agreed with Jefferson and recognized the new French republic and subsequent governments, as did the British, although they were at war with France.

For its first century, the policy of the United States was to recognize de facto governments. (Despite many military coups and dictatorial governments established in Mexico between 1823 and 1860, for example, the United States withdrew its diplomatic representatives from Mexico City only three times, and that for only short periods.) In the early twentieth century this changed somewhat as a large element of moralism motivated the administration of Woodrow Wilson. Subsequent administrations reverted to the policy of "de factoism" during the 1920s and 1930s, but the United States refused to recognize forcible changes made in the territory or governments of victims of aggression, be the offender Japan, as in the case of Manchuria, the Soviet Union with respect to the Baltic states, or Germany with respect to its conquest of western Europe during World War II. A policy of nonrecognition was followed toward the Baltic states until these were freed of Russian control at the end of the Cold War. The United States also obtained collective support for the policy from democratic European nations and the Latin American states.

Until Wilson's presidency, United States practice prior to extending recognition was to eschew the question of legitimacy and to demand effectiveness and evidence of popular consent, with the element of democratic legality proved by means of free elections. Although monarchic heads of state took as an open declaration of war by the French National Convention in 1792 that it would aid those seeking to recover their liberties, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson stated, "It accords with our principles to acknowledge any government to be rightful which is formed by the will of the people, substantially declared." By adding, however, that he would deal in certain instances with a "government de facto," he has been declared a pioneer of "de factoism."

Rather than insisting rigidly that a new government have the consent of its people, the United States, recalling its own revolutionary origin, adopted the principle of the people's subsequent legitimation of a government deemed to be de facto. The result was that the United States almost automatically extended recognition to de facto governments even though it took into account the use of democratic processes by a new government and the latter's disposition to fulfill international obligations. Sometimes, however, Jefferson's dictum with respect to "the will of the nation" was "interpreted" so as to take on a tinge of legitimism and to equate legitimism with legality or constitutionalism, as under Secretary of State William H. Seward in the 1860s and under Wilson early in the twentieth century.

Legally, the quality of a state's civilization, municipal law, legitimacy, politics, and religion should not be weighed, but states sometimes pay attention, for reasons of national advantage, to constitutional, political, legal, commercial, and even partisan, moral, and humanitarian considerations before extending recognition. Excellent examples are available in President Wilson's relations with China, Mexico, and Bolshevik Russia. With respect to China, Wilson and his first secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, wished to see it become a constitutional republic freed from imperialistic powers and the clutches of American dollar diplomacy. They were also moved by humanitarian and moral considerations, for they spoke of love, brotherhood, and friendship. They therefore rejected a proposal of collective recognition made by Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and other powers and unilaterally recognized the government of Yüan Shih-k'ai on 2 May 1913, after which the European powers and Japan accorded formal recognition.

Abuse of the weapon of recognition appeared in especially aggravated form with respect to Mexico. Early in 1913, the government of Victoriano Huerta controlled about 80 percent of Mexico and had been recognized by twenty-eight states. Assistant Secretary of State Alvey A. Adee, counselor of the Department of State John Bassett Moore, and most American businessmen demanded its recognition. Wilson, however, demanded an orderly government that would not only protect Americans in Mexico and their large investments thereand perhaps keep out competing foreign investors, such as the Britishbut also fulfill the social aspirations of its people. The administration clearly meant to exercise a moral judgment upon Mexico's internal affairs and so apply the test of constitutionality before granting recognition.

Over a two-year period, Wilson obtained a recision of recognition from the important European and Latin American powers; violated U.S. neutrality laws by letting arms reach Huerta's constitutionalist opponents, even though he refused to recognize them as belligerents; probably made a "deal" over Panama Canal tolls in which Great Britain let the situation in Mexico become strictly an American affair; intervened militarily at Veracruz, and then grasped eagerly at mediation offered by Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Huerta fled into exile in July 1914, but Wilson's relations with the government of Venustiano Carranza remained unhappy even though de facto recognition was granted to it in 1915. In 1918, Carranza's threat to make retroactive Article 27 of the Mexican constitution of 1917, which nationalized Mexico's subsoil properties, increased acerbities. It was not until 1923, after being clubbed again with a threat of nonrecognition, that President Alvaro Obregón pledged that the article would not be applied retroactively. His government was then recognized.

As Louis L. Jaffe has put it, "The whole world went off the de facto standard in its policy toward Soviet Russia." Giuseppe Mazzini and other Italians had followed the "principle of nationality," or self-determination, in creating the Italian state between 1861 and 1870. Wilson had used the principle to obtain independence for the subject nationalities of central Europe between 1918 and 1920. He considered some extremely subjective, as well as objective, factors in declining to recognize the Soviet Union, however. Russia had "defected" to Germany in World War I. Its Bolshevik leaders, not the people, had made the accommodations reached in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The new government, which did not reflect popular political desires, faced such turmoil and revolution that it lacked definite geographical boundaries and a recognizable bureaucracy. And the minority in control of the government killed or imprisoned certain groups in the interest of progress for others.

In 1920, Bainbridge Colby, Wilson's third and last secretary of state, said that the United States refused to recognize the Soviet Union because it had subverted popular government and denied Russians the democratic right of self-determination, had taken American property without paying for it, had sent agents abroad to foment communist revolutions, and had negated the conventions of international law.

In 1922 Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes asserted: "We recognize the right of revolution and we do not attempt to determine the internal concerns of other states." He added, however, "There still remain other questions to be considered." Since the acquiescence of the people was the most important question, Hughes seemed to be abandoning the Wilsonian concept of moral intervention. In 1930, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson agreed that subsequent legitimation by constitutional methods would warrant the recognition of a new government. In that year, when the United States recognized new governments in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru on a de facto basis, and in 1932, when it recognized a new government in Chile, all Stimson required was that a new government furnish evidence "that it is in control of the country and that there is no active resistance to it." He suggested, however, that each government "hold in due course elections to regularize its status." Stimson had thus retreated to the principle of recognition based simply upon the effectiveness of a government, thereby repudiating the Wilson policy of moralism.

Even though it had apparently reverted to a policy of "de factoism," the United States refused to recognize a number of states other than the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. Although not a signatory, it sometimes acted in accordance with the so-called Tobar Doctrine that grew out of the treaties written among the Central American republics in 1907 and renewed in 1923. Designed to discourage revolutions, these provided that the parties "shall not recognize any other Government which may come into power in any of the five Republics as a consequence of a coup d'etat, or of a revolution against the recognized Government, so long as the freely elected representatives of the people thereof have not constitutionally reorganized the country." They also disqualified the leaders of a coup d'état from assuming the presidency or vice presidency. The United States applied the doctrine to the revolutionary leader Federico Tinoco in Costa Rica in 1917, to Honduras in 1924, and to the government of Emiliano Chamorro of Nicaragua in 1925, thereby giving extreme expression to Jefferson's "will of the nation substantially declared," perhaps out of fear that dictatorships and revolutionary governments posed a danger for international peace.

States may withhold recognition or withdraw it in order to punish regimes they regard as illegitimate and those guilty of illegal conduct. In either case the executive, legislative, and judicial acts of an offender are treated as nonexistent. Treaties with the offender can be suspended, and foreign forces may be admitted to aid rebels against it. It may be rejected as a plaintiff in foreign courts and denied property situated abroad. Secretary of State Seward refused to recognize a revolutionary government in Peru in 1868; at the request of the Wilson administration a number of states rescinded their recognition of the Mexican government of Victoriano Huerta in 1918; still others refused to recognize the state of Manchukuo that Japan created in Manchuria on 18 February 1932. The major reason for recognizing the Soviet Union in 1933 was the (vain) hope that trade with it would help the United States climb out of the Great Depression.

When Nazi Germany overran a number of western European states in 1940, the United Kingdom and the United States, without declarations of recognition, regarded the governments in exile of these countries as de jure, even though they could not exercise effective control over their national territory. The United States took a similar hard line toward the victims of Soviet aggression in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, which were quickly recognized as independent after the downfall of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, but it refused to recognize North Korea and North Vietnam. Conversely, Austria, which lost its international personality in 1938, when forced into an Anschluss with Germany, had it restored by treaty with the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union in 1955. The United States has also followed the principle that recognition would not be granted to territorial changes made by force in violation of treaty rights. The principle was first enunciated in the Continental Treaty resulting from the Inter-American Conference held at Santiago, Chile, in 18471848, and was restated in the recommendations of the International Conference of American States held at Washington in 1890. In 1915, Bryan used it in dealing with Japan's Twenty-one Demands on China. If agreed to, the demands would have made China a Japanese protectorate, in violation of the treaty rights of Americans and others, and of the Open Door policy. Bryan told Japan, "The United States frankly recognizes that territorial contiguity creates special relations between Japan and these districts"(Shantung, Manchuria, and eastern Mongolia). Japan's demands, however, "while not infringing the territorial integrity of the Republic, are clearly derogatory to the political independence and administrative entity of that country." On 11 May 1915, Bryan issued the blunt caveat that the United States would not honor "any agreement or undertaking which has been entered into or which may be entered into between the Governments of Japan and China, impairing the treaty rights of the United States and its citizens in China, the political or territorial integrity of the Republic of China, or the international policy relative to China commonly known as the open door policy."

As viewed by the United States, Japan's seizure of southern Manchuria in 1931 countered its adherence to the Open Door as expressed in the Nine-Power Treaty of 1922, to the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy written into the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact of 1928, and to the comportment of nations as required by the Covenant of the League of Nations. Herbert Hoover would have no part of war. Although Secretary of State Stimson strongly supported collective security, he realized that there was a popular American and official British and French opposition both to strong unilateral action and to joint action with the League, of which the United States was not a member. Admittedly building on Bryan's note of 11 May 1915, Stimson told China and Japan that the United States would not recognize arrangements in Manchuria detrimental to American rights and that it "does not intend to recognize any situation, treaty, or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the covenants and obligations of the Kellogg-Briand Pact." But he could not persuade Hoover, such powers as Britain and France, or the League of Nations to impose even economic sanctions against Japan, or convince Britain to invoke the Nine-Power Treaty. When Manchukuo, as Japan renamed its stolen territory, proclaimed itself a new state, the United States denied it recognition. The Assembly of the League of Nations followed suit, with no observable results; and it was not until the end of World War II that Manchuria was restored to China.

Similarly, when Italy forcibly annexed Ethiopia, most league members handled the situation "in the light of their own situation and their own obligations." By denying Ethiopia de facto existence, they vitiated the league covenant. The United States stood by the Stimson Doctrine but refused to intervene. After World War II began, the European Allied powers rescinded their action, thereby admitting previous error, and "restored" Ethiopia's independence. These actions notwithstanding, the U.S. demand for an expression of popular will was slackening, as it was also in Great Britain, particularly toward states like Italy, the Soviet Union, and Japan, in which free popular expression was not provided for or tolerated. Britain recognized the Soviet Union de facto in 1921 and de jure in 1924. The United States extended recognition in 1933 even though to some persons it appeared that the unchallenged exercise of governmental authority had been substituted for the principle of subsequent legitimation through popular consent as a test for recognition. However, because the choice of self-determination extends to constitutions, the legal source of validity of a state's actions, and must not restrict the opportunity for change, international law permits the recognition of nondemocratic states that give evidence of effective government.


A multinational approach to recognition has been observable since the mid-1930s. The Declaration of the Principles of Inter-American Solidarity and Confederation (1936) proscribed both the recognition of territorial conquest through violence and the intervention by one state in the internal or external affairs of another. When it appeared that the Axis powers might seek to acquire the American possessions of European nations they had overrun, the Act of Havana (1940) stated that those possessions would be placed under the provisional administration of the American republics. In 1943 it was suggested that the countries of the Western Hemisphere that had declared war or broken relations with the Axis powers should not, for the duration of the war, recognize governments created by force in Latin America without prior consultation among themselves.

In the Atlantic Charter (August 1941) the United States and the United Kingdom declared their desire "to see no territorial changes that would not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned," and sought respect for "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live." The Crimean Charter of the Yalta Conference suggested the admission of democratic procedures in the determination of governments in countries liberated from Axis control; those governments should then be recognized collectively following consultations by the Allied powers. The Charter of the United Nations states: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state" and bars from membership any state unwilling to carry out its international obligations. For example, Francisco Franco's Spain was barred. The United Nations has thus sought to substitute for unilateral recognition a collective decision whether a state seeking membership is a "peace-loving state" able and willing to carry out the obligations of the charter, hence deserving of recognition. The question of whether the nationhood of a people is better determined by the United Nations or by the several states nevertheless remains moot.

In a rare case, an international organization has practiced nonrecognition. Despite sympathy for Fidel Castro among left-wing Latin American groups, the Organization of American States condemned Castro's denial of popular liberty in Cuba, his attempts to make his island a launching pad for Soviet missiles, and his exporting of communism to neighboring nations. In 1964 it voted economic sanctions against him and barred official relations with Havana to all its members, thereby technically rescinding recognition. Since 1974, however, six major and several minor Latin American states have violated the ban, and in 1975 the United States relaxed its trade restrictions. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and their secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, declined to recognize Castro on terms he proposed, but President Jimmy Carter sought a rapprochement. The United States in 2000 did not recognize Castro but permitted the sale to him of foods and medicines and a limited amount of American tourism to Cuba.

West Germany, strongly supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, tried for many years to avoid a "two-Germany" concept by threatening economic sanctions and breaking diplomatic relations with third states that recognized East Germany, which was fully recognized by the communist world but denied representation in most international organizations. It was not until September 1974 that the United States sent an ambassador, John Sherman Cooper, to East Germany. Both Taiwan and Beijing (capital of the People's Republic of China), under the Mao Doctrine of 1949, refuse to deal with any third power that has recognized the other as the government of all of China. Taiwan maintains that the communist government of Beijing does not enjoy the support of its people, while Beijing insists that Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory. The issue is confused because some states that recognize Beijing also recognize Taiwan as de facto. Although some states, like France, broke relations with Taiwan after recognizing Beijing, the long-held idea that both Chinas could not be represented in the same international organizations gave way when Beijing was admitted to the United Nations in 1972, and Taiwan was ejected as a member of its Security Council.

From 1 October 1949, when the People's Republic of China was formed, until 1972, the United States refused to recognize it and also tried to keep it out of the United Nations because it lacked the character of a "peace-loving" nation, proved unwilling to abide by international regulations, and might replace Taiwan on the UN Security Council. Other considerations included U.S. unwillingness to dishonor its commitments to Taiwan by rescinding recognition; fear that the "domino theory," starting with Taiwan, would work its way through Southeast Asia; Chinese intervention in Korea and support for North Vietnam; the bombing of the islands of Matsu and Quemoy (1958); Beijing's brutal takeover of Tibet (1959) and attack on India (1962); the seizure of American property without compensation, mistreatment of American citizens, and implementation of a "Hate America" campaign; and the repression of democratic reforms at home and denial of liberty to its people. Moreover, the dictatorship threatened to spread communist doctrine by war rather than follow methods of peaceful coexistence, and its recognition would increase its power and prestige.

Among the reasons for a change of decision were President Nixon's desire to achieve a historic diplomatic victory; the conclusion that Taiwan could never recover mainland China; the effective de facto character of a government controlling some 800 million people; its military, including atomic power; its serving as a buffer against the Soviets; the absence in its government of the bribery, graft, and corruption that had characterized the prerevolutionary Chiang Kai-shek regime; and its recognition not only by Britain, France, and West Germany but also by most of the nations of the Third World. With a large number of "developing" nations in the United Nations that favored Beijing over Taipei (Taiwan's capital) and were critical of America's role as the "world's policeman," it was clear that Beijing would be admitted to the United Nations. By a vote of 76 to 65 it was admitted on 25 October 1971.

The United States had begun to thaw the frigid Sino-American relations in 1969 by relaxing some trade and travel restrictions. In April 1971, Beijing invited American Ping-Pong players to visit China. Nixon then began to gradually abolish all trade restrictions and let it be known that Beijing would receive him. To this end, he secretly sent his adviser on national security affairs, Henry Kissinger, to speak with Premier Chou En-lai and others and arrange for an eight-day presidential visit in late February 1972. The joint communiqué issued stressed the national interests of the parties, but Nixon said he would remove his troops from Taiwan. Chou En-lai predicted that normalization of relations would follow enlarged contacts. With Sino-American diplomatic relations reestablished, other nations had to adjust to the new situation. Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and eventually other Southeast Asia states jumped on the bandwagon. While liaison offices were opened in Beijing and Washington, it was not until 15 December 1978 that, after several months of secret meetings, President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States and China had agreed to establish diplomatic relations on 1 January 1979 and that they would exchange ambassadors and establish embassies on 1 March. Further, the United States would maintain commercial and unofficial relations with Taiwan and sell it materials needed to keep its defenses operating but would terminate the mutual defense treaty of 1954. While some in Congress regarded the agreement as "selling Taiwan down the river" and others as a "historical inevitability," China said that returning Taiwan to mainland control would be an "internal" problem.


Because recognition applies to belligerency as well as to state governments, precise discrimination and timing must be paid to the facts in a civil war. Premature recognition of political parties seeking to establish a state separate from a parent state may be deemed tortious or delictual, if not actual intervention, and may even lead to war with the parent state, which is vested with the presumption of right until the rebels triumph. The writing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (1778) between France and the rebellious British subjects in America resulted in a war between France and Great Britain, as France intended. The United States threatened war because of what it believed to be too prompt a recognition of belligerency of the Confederate States of America by Great Britain, and Colombia assumed a very aggrieved stance after what appeared to it as the precipitoussix hourrecognition by the United States of the Panama Republic in 1903. In contrast, belated recognition of eventually victorious rebels may result in unpleasant relations, such as those attending the unwillingness of the United States to recognize for a dozen years the Latin American republics that seceded from Spain, Texas throughout 1836, Mexico at times between 1913 and 1923, the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1933, Manchukuo from 1932, the People's Republic of China from 1949 to 1972, and East Germany from 1945 to 1974.

The test applied to belligerents, unless the parent state has stopped trying to impose its authority or has assented to its loss of sovereignty, is whether they have created a separate political existence capable of maintaining order at home and worthy of respect from abroad. Applicable to rebellions or secessions seeking independence is the formula stated by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams when writing to the American minister to Colombia on 27 May 1823: "So long as a contest of arms with a rational or even a remote prospect of eventual success, was maintained by Spain, the United States could not recognize the independence of the colonies as existing de facto without trespassing on their duties to Spain by assuming as decided that which was precisely the question of the war." By prematurely recognizing the independence of the Latin American republics, Adams might give Spain justification for declaring war and for not negotiating with the United States for the release of the Floridas. On the other hand, if he recognized the Latin Americans too late, he would arouse resentment in their governments and also lose trade to active British rivals. Consequently, he devised the "utterly desperate" formula. "It is the stage," he wrote President James Monroe on 24 August 1818, "when independence is established as a matter of fact so as to leave the chances of the opposite party to recover their dominion utterly desperate." After Spain protested the intention of the United States to recognize the revolted provinces as independent, Adams replied that American policy was to recognize as independent states "nations which, after deliberately asserting their right to that character, have maintained and established it against all the resistance which had been or could be brought to oppose it."

Timing is important, as the Texas revolution against Mexico and the American Civil War reveal. Friction between U.S. settlers and the Mexican government provoked a revolution in 1835. President Andrew Jackson remained neutral until 3 March 1837, the last day of his administration, when he recognized the independence of Texas, announced in 1836. When Mexico protested that recognition, Secretary of State John Forsyth replied that it was the policy of the United States to recognize de facto governments. For seven years an independent Texas had been recognized by at least the United States, Great Britain, and France but not by Mexico, which had repeatedly stated that its annexation by the United States would mean war. The question of recognition became academic when the United States annexed Texas in 1845 and, in the treaty ending the Mexican War, won confirmation of its title to the former republic.

Until the Civil War, the United States looked upon secessionist activity, such as that of the Latin American states, as following its own revolutionary model. Moreover, it frowned upon the monarchical principle and objected especially to the forcible maintenance of monarchical legitimacy in the New World. In brief, rebellion against monarchy was not illegal; it was the assertion of natural right. During the American Civil War, although the shoe appeared to be on the other foot, the Union refused to change its historic policy with respect to the recognition of belligerency or, for that matter, the duty of neutrals.

On 19 April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a maritime blockade of seven seceded southern states. By thus granting the Confederacy the status of belligerent, he elevated a domestic disturbance to a full-fledged war and recognized the Confederacy as an "apparent" international entity, or "embryonic state," or "local de facto government" possessed of all the rights of a state with respect to the conduct of war. Although the Union never recognized the belligerency of the Confederacy, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in the prize cases (1863), that the Confederacy was engaged in a civil war.

With two parts of the United States at war, third states could agree that the as yet ineffective blockade was legal and thereby uphold the Union; could recognize the Confederacy as a belligerent by proclaiming neutrality; could recognize the Confederacy as an independent state and invite war with the Union; or could do nothing and leave their international relations to the vicissitudes of an ill-defined international law.

Particularly involved was Great Britain, whose ubiquitous ships could be captured by Union ships enforcing the blockade. Its decision to remain neutralbased upon the announced Union blockade, President Jefferson Davis's proclamation of the intent of the Confederacy to exercise the rights of a belligerent, and upon its own Foreign Enlistment Act of 1819was followed by all the major powers. Such neutrality gave the Confederacy both a morale boost and hope for eventual recognition as being independent, because both belligerents were placed on a legal par; the Confederacy could license privateers, send ships to the ports of recognizing powers, exercise the right of visit and search at sea, seek foreign loans, conduct a blockade, and seize contraband. The British proclamation was issued on 6 May 1861. Had the British waited until after the Union defeat at the second Battle of Bull Run, they might have opted for recognition of independence instead of merely belligerency.

Instead, in July 1862, when a representative asked Britain to recognize the Confederacy as a separate and independent power, the prime minister, Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston, advised Earl John Russell, the foreign minister, that recent military reverses indicated that the time for recognition had not yet come. Russell therefore replied that "In order to be entitled to a place among the independent nations of the earth, a State ought to have not only strength and resources for a time, but afford promise of stability and permanence." On the other hand, when the Union protested Britain's having any relations with the Confederacy, Russell stated that the protection of British interests there might cause him to deal with the Confederate capital and even with southern state capitals, "but such communications will not imply any acknowledgment of the Confederacy as a separate state." The French took the same attitude, so that both Britain and France acknowledged that belligerents obtain their rights from the fact of war rather than from recognition.

Following the crushing Union defeat at the second Battle of Bull Run, Palmerston suggested to the French a joint mediation proposal that Washington accept as an "arrangement on the basis of a separation." The ability of the Union to hold southern forces at Antietam Creek, Maryland, blunted British and French ardor for this proposal. Resolution of the question of recognition had thus depended upon a military victory over the North that attested to the viability of the South as a community warranting membership in the international sphere. Then, as an example of how moral and humanitarian elements may alter a situation, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation drove all thought of the recognition of the Confederacy from the minds of the leaders of the major European powers.

The law of belligerent recognition attained maturity during the Civil War. Because the historical policy of the United States was to remain neutral in case of civil war, the Union secretary of state, William H. Seward, took umbrage at the attempts by the European powers to recognize the Confederacy. He denied that the southern rebellion amounted to a state of war, and saw no need for foreign action even if a state of war existed. On 28 February 1861, he instructed U.S. ministers abroad to counter any suggestion of recognition and to ask foreign powers to "take no steps which may tend to encourage the revolutionary movement of the seceding states; or increase danger of disaffection in those which still remain loyal." In April he told the U.S. minister to Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams, that European states customarily used the collective method of granting recognition, a method not used in the Americas.

Furthermore, Seward was inclined to treat recognition of even belligerency as an unfriendly act, to the point that he pondered seeking compensation for damages done by a premature grant of belligerent rights, which he viewed, he told Adams, as interference with the sovereign rights of the United States. Indeed, Seward asserted that a proclamation of neutrality by Great Britain would challenge the right of the Union to protect its government and territory, and that he would declare war on any nation that recognized the independence of the Confederacy. Throughout the Civil War, then, the policy of the United States with respect to the recognition of belligerency remained consistent with earlier practice.

Consistency continued with respect to both Cuban revolutions. In 1875, during the Ten Years' War, President Ulysses S. Grant told Congress that the policy of the United States was to recognize de facto governments. Cuba was not at the time "a fact" because it lacked an effective and stable government. Therefore, it could not be recognized. Similarly, President William McKinley told Congress on 11 April 1898 that "recognition of independent statehood is not due to a revolted dependency until the danger of its being again subjugated by the parent state has entirely passed away"a rewording of John Quincy Adams's "utterly desperate" formula.

The Spanish Civil War (19361939), "the most disputed case of belligerent recognition since the American Civil War," presents a special case illustrative of the abuse of power of recognition. Few will deny that war existed and that a recognition of belligerency was in order. Germany and Italy championed the rebel, pro-Catholic General Francisco Franco, against the anticlerical Republican (Loyalist) regime supported by the Russians and enjoying the sympathy of a goodly number of Americans. By recognizing Franco two and a half years before the end of the war, much too early to tell how the struggle would end, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini reversed the situation so that the lawful government became the rebellious party. Most other countries simply stood by. Twenty-seven European states banned the export of war materials and departure of volunteers to Spain, and Britain announced its neutrality.

Although several thousand Americans volunteered to fight with the Loyalists, such was the popular support for noninvolvement that the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt amended its neutrality laws to cover civil wars and thus denied support customarily given to the legitimate government, as in embargoing the export of munitions. When Franco won in 1939, the United States recognized him de facto and took steps to resume diplomatic relations suspended during the civil war. Instead of the test of effectiveness being the free expression of popular approval or of democracy, it was made to read effectiveness of authoritarian control, or of dictatorship.

If the character of a civil war will be admitted to the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine, that will serve as a fine example. The British shifted responsibility for their League of Nations mandate over Palestine on 3 December 1947, effective 15 May 1948, to the United Nations, which late in 1947 adopted a partition plan vehemently opposed by the Arabs but upheld by President Harry S. Truman. At midnight local time, 14 May 1948, the provisional government of Israel proclaimed the existence of the Republic of Israel that it had carved out of Palestine. Overriding objections from the Department of State, disregarding the wishes of Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, overlooking the nonrecognition of Israel by strategically located and oil-rich Arab states, the general fighting between Arabs and Jews throughout Palestine, and stating that he did so in keeping with the principle of self-determination and for humanitarian reasons, Truman extended de facto recognition when Israel was but eleven minutes old. Perhaps his need to win the Jewish vote in the fall elections stimulated his prompt action. After Israel held its first elections, on 25 January 1949, Truman extended it de jure recognition six days later. War between Israel and its Arab neighbors has been intermittent since the Republic of Israel first saw light. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was demanding a Palestine state with the capital in Jerusalem and sovereignty over shrines sacred to both Jews and Muslimswhich Israel would not let him have.

A most unexpected and exciting transfer of sovereignty occurred in Yugoslavia beginning in September 2000. Elections held on 24 September chose a fifty-six-year-old attorney, Vojislav Kostunica, rather than Slobodan Milosevic, who had enjoyed thirteen years of autocratic and corrupt rule. The latter asked for a runoff election and sent an aide to summon Kostunica. When Milosevic said he had won the election, Kostunica informed him that a constitutional court had ruled in his own favorinformation Milosevic lacked. In any event, a crowd of some 200,000 persons paraded in Belgrade and burned the parliament building, with the army and police doing little to hinder them. On 6 October, Milosevic admitted defeat. Following Kostunica's formal investiture as president, the United States and western Europe quickly recognized him. After holding out for several days, Russia and China extended recognition as well.


It is the prerogative of each state to extend recognition to a new community. Recognition admits to a state's having an international personality, yet the tests applied to statehood have often been violated by the use of constitutional, moral, humanitarian, and other subjective judgments. The practice of democratic states generally has been to recognize effective, or de facto, governments; the practice of undemocratic states, to recognize states espousing the objectives of their own national policies. Even if popular legitimation by free elections does not follow their extension of de facto recognition, democracies manage to live with undemocratic governments that are stable and permanent. States may withhold or withdraw recognition to punish illegitimate state or illegal conductby the latter, for example, for undertaking territorial changes by force in violation of the sovereignty of the victim and of the treaty rights of third parties. It is, of course, possible to have intercourse on a limited basis with states that are not recognized. Recognition is an executive act that extends to governments rather than to persons. Although regional and world organizations have used collective recognition to admit states to their membership, and thereby recognize them, unilateral recognition is still practiced.

Belligerent parties seeking freedom from a parent state may be recognized whenever they have created a new government capable of maintaining order within its boundaries and worthy of respect from abroad. If the parent state has stopped trying to impose its authority or has assented to its loss of sovereignty, recognition may be granted freely. Otherwise questions of timing and of degree must be weighed carefully by third parties, lest premature recognition lead to war with the parent state and belated recognition leads to loss of the friendship and trade of the victorious belligerents. In this connection it is difficult to improve upon John Adams's "utterly desperate" formula. Nevertheless, because insurgency has largely replaced civil wars, the recognition of belligerency by the United States was rarely accorded between World War I and World War II and has not been granted since 1945.


Chen, Ti-chiang. The International Law of Recognition, with Special Reference to Practice in Great Britain and the United States. London, 1951. Pays particular attention to the many similarities of international law with respect to recognition policy as adopted by the United States and the United Kingdom.

Goebel, Julius. The Recognition Policy of the United States. New York, 1915. Although dated, provides an excellent account of the recognition policy of the United States for its first century, when it largely followed the de facto principle.

Hackworth, Green Hayward. Digest of International Law. 8 vols. Washington, D.C., 19401944. A very careful and learned synthesis of international law subjects by an expert in the U. S. Department of State.

Harcourt, Sir William Vernon. Letters by Historicus on Some Questions of International Law. London-Cambridge, 1863. Explains why war was averted between the United States and United Kingdom despite Lincoln's proclamation of blockade, the Trent affair, and British recognition of Confederate belligerency.

Jaffe, Louis Leventhal. Judicial Aspects of Foreign Relations, in Particular of the Recognition of Foreign Powers. Cambridge, Mass., 1933. Deals mostly with the theory and practice of recognition and nonrecognition and with legal questions involved in recognition.

Kissinger, Henry. White House Years. Boston, 1979. Fully details how Richard Nixon granted recognition to Red China.

Lampe, John R. Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country. 2d ed. Cambridge, 2000. Holds that Yugoslavia failed to develop a sense of common citizenship that could override competing national loyalties.

Lauterpacht, Sir Hersch. Recognition in International Law. Cambridge, U.K., 1947. Written by perhaps the greatest authority on modern international law; includes a close examination of British and American practices in the field.

Moore, John Bassett. A Digest of International Law. 8 vols. Washington, D.C., 1906. Indispensable reference on international law matters.

Oppenheim, L. (Lassa). International Law, A Treatise. 2 vols. 8th ed. Toronto, 1955. Edited by Hersch Lauterpach, London and New York, 1948. Not as extensive as Moore, Hack-worth, or Whiteman but deals separately and clearly with the myriad subjects included in international law.

Silber, Laura, and Allan Little. Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. Rev. ed. Santa Monica, Calif., 1997. Discovery Channel video that covers the history of the Balkans and explains why ethnic conflicts continue to exist.

Tarulis, Albert N. American-Baltic Relations, 19181922. Washington, D.C., 1965. Explains why it took the United States four years to recognize the Baltic states after they obtained their independence from Russia in 1918.

Tyler, Patrick. "The (Ab)normalization of U.S.Chinese Relations." Foreign Affairs 78 (Sept.Oct. 1999): 122. Concerns the battle between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbignew Brzezinski over the matter of fully recognizing Red China.

Whiteman, Marjorie M. Digest of International Law. 15 vols. Washington, D.C., 19631973. Brings Hackworth and Moore up to date in a learned and meticulous manner, using copious references to the literature of international relations and law.

See also International Law; Intervention and Nonintervention; Neutrality; Revolution; Self-Determination; Wilsonianism.

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Recognition is a term that has been increasingly employed in the social sciences. In psychology, the term usually refers to identifying external objects or to other mental processes. In other disciplines within the social sciences, recognition has been used rather freely to denote an act of or motivation for acknowledgment of certain demands, goals, values, and identities. It is this latter social and political meaning of recognition that has increasingly become a matter of importance, moral concern, and focus of scholarship.

At the level of the individual, the importance of recognition can be observed when, for example, one person assaults another person due to what is perceived as a lack of respect or recognition. The code of the streets emphasizes recognition and saving-face as issues of the highest importance. At the collective level, people strive for recognition of group values, identities, and reparations for past wrongs. To recognize, in this sense, means to behave in a manner that satisfies expectations of respect and contributes to a sense of positive self-esteem in those who are recognized.

The psychological motivation for recognition is defined in social psychology as the pursuit, defense, and maintenance of positive self-esteem. In fact, recognition and self-esteem are often used interchangeably because positive self-esteem is intertwined with, and affected by, attitudes of others, such as the granting or withholding of social acknowledgement. Social psychologists assert that positive self-esteem contributes to optimal functioning, higher efficacy, development (self-enhancement), happiness, satisfaction with life, better performance, persistence at tasks, and reduced anxieties. In contrast, low self-esteem is strongly associated with mental disorders, malfunctioning, antisocial behavior, aggression, delinquency, and opposite traits and effects of positive self-esteem. Because recognition enhances positive self-esteem and the lack of recognition tends to produce low self-esteem, it is understandable that people are highly motivated to pursue recognition and may act aggressively if denied recognition.

The notion of recognition has also been examined in philosophy. Plato identified recognition with the thymos, the enthusiastic part of the soul that seeks honor and pride. Thomas Hobbes argued that people are led by a natural human passion for fame and honor, which is a desire to be recognized by others. Many other political philosophers discuss recognition as esteem. G. W. F Hegel, however, was the first to discuss recognition in the context of the relationship between a master and a slave, and to suggest that equal recognition is the key for the development of human freedom over the course of history. Several political philosophers were influenced by Hegels conception of recognition, such as Karl Marx, Alexandre Kojève (1902-1968), and Francis Fukuyama (1952).

Later in the twentieth century, the notion of recognition was discussed in new contexts. John Rawls argued that to acknowledge the moral duty of fair play is to recognize others as human beings with equal aspirations and interests. According to Rawls, this recognition is a necessary element of just societies. Charles Taylor introduced the idea of recognition in the debate on multiculturalism and differential treatment of minority groups. In the opening of his treatise The Politics of Recognition (1992), Taylor argues that contemporary politics had become significantly shaped by needs and demands for recognition. Because identity and self-respect are affected by recognition or the lack thereof, and because nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict real harm and serve as a form of oppression, Taylor argues that recognition is not only a matter of a moral obligation to others, it is a vital human need.

The transition from the normative to the descriptive aspect of recognition also characterizes Francis Fukuyamas The End of History and the Last Man (1992). Following Hegel, Fukuyama argues that the pursuit of recognition is part and parcel of human nature. Fukuyama discusses the moral aspects of recognition and the necessary acceptance of equal recognition as the foundation for liberal democracy, but he continues to suggest that recognition is also the causal engine of democratization. Nondemocratic regimes tend to inflict a sense of low self-esteem in the population, and hence the oppressed become motivated to regain a sense of recognition and human dignity. They can achieve this only through the establishment of a democratic order that entails equal recognition to all citizens.

Given the importance of recognition to self-esteem, and the growing awareness that demands for recognition are often voiced in politics, the pursuit of recognition may become the new frontier of research as an explanatory factor to various social and political phenomena. An array of social change phenomena seems to be associated with the pursuit of recognition, at least as members of social change movements express their ultimate goals. This has been the case for slaves and other oppressed groups, feminist groups, and minority groups. Democratization also appears to be affected by struggles for recognition, as demands for political and civil rights are often demands for recognition. Struggles for recognition are usually expressed as struggles for human dignity and against humiliation, and for restoration of self-esteem and similar concepts that are associated with self-respect and self-esteem. As such, the pursuit of recognition appears to lie at the heart of political life. Recognition, thus, has become not only an important normative concept, but also an overarching explanatory concept.

SEE ALSO Black Power; Civil Rights; Democratization; Feminism; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Hobbes, Thomas; Human Rights; Public Rights; Reparations; Self-Esteem; Subaltern


Crocker, Jennifer, and Wayne Bylsma. 1995. Self-Esteem. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Psychology, ed. A. S. R. Manstead, Miles Hewstone, and Susan T. Fiske, 505-509. Oxford: Blackwell.

Fukuyama, Francis. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.

Hegel, G. W. F. [1807] 2003. Phenomenology of Mind. New York: Dover.

Taylor, Charles. 1992. The Politics of Recognition. In Multiculturalism and The Politics of Recognition: An Essay, ed. Amy Gutmann, 25-73. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Doron Shultziner

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recognition, acknowledgment of the admission of new states into the international community by political action of states that are already members. Its derivation is found in the policy of the older European powers, which, after developing a system of binding diplomatic usage, refused to permit the admission of new states to the concert of nations unless the new power was properly qualified to assume its responsibilities under international law. Recognition is retroactive to the actual date of the establishment of the state or the formation of the new government, and all its acts from that time are valid.

Kinds of Recognition

Three kinds of recognition exist. Recognition of independence occurs when a new state is created, usually by a successful rebellion, and is accepted by members of the international community, either by a formal statement or by entering into diplomatic relations with the new state. Recognition of independence generally takes place after the new nation has demonstrated its ability to maintain itself; if a power recognizes an insurrectionary colony or dependency while the mother country is attempting to crush the rebellion, it is considered an offense to the dominant country that is being ousted. A second type of recognition may occur when a new form of government follows the establishment of a new political force in a country. A republic may be recognized as the successor of a monarchy, or a new president may be acknowledged after the overthrow of the previous incumbent. Recognition of belligerency, the third kind, was introduced into international law when that form of acknowledgment was given (1861) to the Confederate States of America by Great Britain. Such recognition grants the belligerents the rights and duties of a state as they concern war and commerce, but it does not grant the right to enter into official diplomatic relations with neutral nations. In recognizing belligerency, the nation offends the state against which the rebellion is directed. When recognition is de facto it involves a provisional acknowledgment that the government in power is exercising the function of sovereignty. Such recognition is revocable and implies a lesser degree of recognition than the formal recognition accorded de jure [Lat.,=as of right].

Use of Nonrecognition

The withholding of diplomatic recognition may be used in an attempt to force changes of policy on a new government, as illustrated by the nonrecognition of the Huerta (1913) and Obregón (1920) governments in Mexico and of the Communist government in China (1949) by the United States. The United States normally follows a policy known as the Stimson Doctrine (established by Secretary of State Henry Stimson in 1931), which states that the United States does not recognize territorial changes brought about by breach of international obligation. For this reason the United States did not recognize the Japanese-supported government in Manchukuo (1932) or the Italian government in Ethiopia (1936). This principle is implied in the Charter of the United Nations.


See H. Lauterpacht, Recognition in International Law (1947); T. C. Chen, The International Law of Recognition (1951); B. Bot, Nonrecognition and Treaty Relations (1968).

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The confirmation oracknowledgmentof the existence of an act performed, of an event that transpired, or of a person who is authorized by another to act in a particular manner.

In tax law, a capital gain is recognized when a taxpayer has actually received payment. Such gain must then be reported on income tax forms, and capital gains tax must be paid on it.

In international law, the term recognition refers to the formal acknowledgment by one state that another state exists as a separate and independent government. Recognition is not a mere technicality. A state has no status among nations until it is recognized by other states, in spite of the fact that it might possess all other attributes of a state, including a definable territory and population, a recognizable government, and a certain amount of continuity or stability.

The decision to recognize a new national government is a political act that is in the discretion of the officials who are responsible for foreign policy. In the United States, the president makes the decision to recognize a country and can do so by making a formal announcement or by having another official, such as the secretary of state, make the announcement for him. Recognition can also be informal, such as by opening negotiations with a new state or exchanging diplomats with it.

A nation is not truly sovereign and independent unless other nations recognize its sovereignty. Formal recognition operates to assure a new state that it will be permitted to hold its place and rank as an independent political body among the nations.

Recognition takes effect from the time it is given as if the state had always existed, and a new government can carry forward international projects initiated by the old government it replaces.

Many difficulties come into play when a government is not recognized. For example, an unrecognized government is not entitled to participate in diplomatic negotiations or to have its laws applied in lawsuits or in jurisdictions.

The term recognition is also used in relation to armed conflicts. If a state of belligerency is recognized, then the law of war applies with all of its protections for prisoners of war and noncombatants. Recognition of a state of belligerency ordinarily comes from an uninvolved state that declares itself neutral. A neutral country is able to recognize a state of belligerency and carry on trade and diplomatic relations with both sides of the conflict.

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rec·og·ni·tion / ˌrekigˈnishən/ • n. the action or process of recognizing or being recognized, in particular: ∎  identification of a thing or person from previous encounters or knowledge: she saw him pass by without a sign of recognition methods of production have improved beyond all recognition. ∎  acknowledgment of something's existence, validity, or legality: the unions must receive proper recognition. ∎  appreciation or acclaim for an achievement, service, or ability: his work was slow to gain recognition she received the award in recognition of her courageous human rights work. ∎  (also dip·lo·mat·ic rec·og·ni·tion) formal acknowledgment by a country that another political entity fulfills the conditions of statehood and is eligible to be dealt with as a member of the international community. DERIVATIVES: re·cog·ni·to·ry / riˈkägnəˌtôrē/ adj. ( rare ).

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recognition †(Sc. leg.) resumption of lands by a feudal superior XV; acknowledgement as true or valid XVI; identification of a person or thing XVIII. — L. recognitio, -ōn-, f. recognit-, pp. stem of recognoscere examine, recognize; see RE-, COGNITION.
So recognize †(Sc. leg.) resume possession of XV; †revise, amend; †acknowledge, admit; treat as valid, approve; know again XVI. Early forms raccunnis (Sc.), recognis(h), soon assim. to vbs. in -ise, -IZE. — OF. recon(n)iss-, pres. stem of reconnaistre (mod. reconnaître):- L. recognoscere. recognizance legal bond or obligation XIV; †recognition; †badge XV. — OF. recon(u)issance (mod. reconnaissance); cf. COGNIZANCE.

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